Michael D. Meloan’s new book is titled Pinball Wizard, a short novel focusing on Mr. Meloan’s relationship with Los Angeles-based author and poet Charles Bukowski. The book immediately feels deeply personal, even like something of a roman a clef to be honest. Mr. Meloan writes with this kind of unrepentant sentimentality, a sort of appropriate fawning that could border on syrupy and sanguine, but here is more Spielberg’s Fabelmans. It’s clear for Mr. Meloan that his relationship with Mr. Bukowski was a welcome relief to some tenuous emotional relationships, and something of a mentor figure to Mr. Meloan during a critical period of his life.
Mr. Bukowski independent of Pinball Wizard always was something of a larger-than-life figure, someone in the artistic communities possessing the same, wonderfully anarchic spirit of greats like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Inserting him into a creative work, especially one showcasing that sort of influential mystique much like Mr. Meloan’s Pinball Wizard is something of a high-wire act. Mr. Bukowski’s own life is rich and interesting enough to overwhelm any preconceived, imagined or fictitiously used narratives. But Mr. Meloan knows when to excessively highlight, and when to draw back.
As someone who himself works in the entertainment industry, as an author and as a screenwriter, Mr. Meloan is able to stand squarely and distinctively on his own feet. It’s still an interesting exercise though, to use one’s own innate and hard-earned talent to highlight a literary juggernaut. It’s gutsy too, and Mr. Meloan while understatedly showcasing his own talent is able to invest grace and gravity in his reverent depictions of Mr. Bukowski’s singular influence.
The tone of these passages remind me of a decidedly singular quote by Mr. Bukowski, once again reinforcing why he has a distinctive place in all writers’ inspirational silos. “If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision.
It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift,” Mr. Bukowski states. “All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”
Two other quotes come to mind: “People are strange: they are constantly angered by trivial things, but on a major matter like totally wasting their lives, they hardly seem to notice”, and “The best often die by their own hand just to get away, and those left behind can never quite understand why anybody would ever want to get away from them.”